Avalanche Center Home Update - August 9, 2005

An Update from the Avalanche Center
August 9, 2005

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(To translate this update enter the URL "http://www.avalanche-center.org/Organization/updates/" and then follow the link on the translated page to this update. This way the entire page/update is translated.)

Quick Contents:

  • Website Updates and New Features
  • Volunteer help needed
  • General Project News

This is our Tenth Anniversary! We were incorporated and established as a 501c3 nonprofit in August of 1995. Very few internet resources have survived this long, leaving us as one of the oldest online.

This an unusual summer update, but overdue in many respects. I've done more website work in the past couple months than I have most summers. I'm hoping to be less pressured than usual this fall, and especially less than last season when we had credit card processing problems and a computer failure both occur.

Another reason for an update at this time is that I am determined to make a concerted effort before the fall rush to establish more volunteer involvement. For the past ten years I've been doing the vast majority of work myself. At times people have offered to help with things, but they often fail to come through. And by trying just to keep up with everything myself I find that I don't have the time to manage volunteers. While I still have a lot of enthusiasm for, and dedication to, the project I have also become involved in an increasing number of other projects over these ten years. For the past few years there has been more time devoted to developing resources open only to contributors. It's been individuals who have been paying the overhead cost of the project, not industry. And certainly not government. Thus the effort to offer incentives for contributing. If people are behind this project enough to get involved in various aspects of fundraising and promotion perhaps this trend can be reversed over the next few years. If not it will need to continue to move more towards serving contributors rather than the general public, although there will always be some basic resources which are free to all.

As a final introductory note, this update is being tried out in a new format. The email version will be short with lead-ins to the key topics and links to follow for more. It will refer people to the News Section for bottom line website news, the volunteer page of the staff section for more information on current needs, and to this full html version as the detailed and archived update. Hopefully the shorter emails with links will encourage people to read the update and follow the links to check out the site improvements and learn about involvement opportunities.

Website Updates and New Features

This is a list of new and updated features, as posted in the newly updated and cleaned up Avalanche News section.

  • The homepage has been reorganized and should now fit on most monitors in its entirety.

  • The Links Section now uses a newly installed program called phplinkdirectory. This allows anyone to submit a link in a category of their choice, and it checks for a link to the CSAC before initial approval as well as periodically. This is a huge improvement over the old home-programmed system which was usually neglected in the end.

  • The 2005 Incidents should be mostly up to date but a season summary is not yet available.

  • The quizzes in our Education Section now use an entirely new script based on a database. We rewrote parts of it and sent the improved code back to the source so that it can be enhanced for others. This system shows the results after submitting answers, and for contributors who are logged in it also gives full and detailed answers as well as detailed statistics on the success rate on each question. Most existing quizzes have been transferred, but a bit of work remains.

  • Contributors can now log in using a small temporary "quick login" window when they click on the key iconMembers Login indicating material requiring a login account. After logging in they can have the page they wanted reload or they can go to the Contributor Services welcome page, and the temporary window closes in either case. This will make it significantly easier to access this material.

  • The auction has been upgraded some more and will hopefully be prepared for ongoing use soon, in addition to the annual fundraiser.

  • The News Section has been put in order with stories from the spring finally included, links all checked, and formats corrected. And the RSS feed updated.

Volunteer help needed

Current Needs:

Immediate: Outdoor Retailer Show - Help work the semi-annual Outdoor Retailer show. The summer show is August 11-15. At this point we don't realistically expect any return out of this show, but in the future we would like to have multiple volunteers there in CSAC t-shirts with promotional and sponsorship material. By the winter show we should have such materials, with the help of other volunteers. Right now we would like to find a few people interested in going to the show, seeing what its all about, and preparing to do more industry networking in the future. The shows are always in Salt Lake so those interesting in attending with us will probably need to either live in Salt Lake or be going to the show anyway, perhaps on behalf of a retailer they work for. Expectation: Attend a total of two days, in any combination of partial days which suits you. Wear a CSAC tshirt if you have one or if we can get you one in time. Benefits: The show definitely has a major party aspect to it with many venues for free beer, food and music. Its a great way to network with people in the outdoor industry.

Industry Sponsorship/Promotional/Auction Materials - We need to develop and maintain materials for promoting sponsorship to industry and for seeking donations for the fall fundraising auction. There are past materials to work from as well as a small grant proposal which could be reformatted and edited to serve these purposes. These materials would be used by volunteers attending the OR show (above), sent to interested persons from the main office, and used by other volunteers who actively seek auction donations and sponsorship. We have one board member who can be very helpful in this area and at least one strong supporter who once offered some ideas and advice. (So far that offer has had to go unutilized since the whole project has been running mostly on the efforts of a single person.)

Online Auction Development - Our auction is in good enough condition at this point to have it running all year and let people post their own items, in addition to holding the annual fall fundraising auction with items donated by industry. We need a team of people that can keep promoting the auction so that it gets used, help develop policies and operations so that it runs well and is easy to use, promote it to the outdoor industry, and actively seek donations for the fall fundraiser.

General Project News

In other news -

Store - The few items we do have left are on sale for as low as they'll go. Whatever doesn't sell will get carried over into this years inventory, but we'd rather sell it all and have the cash flow now. And contributors pay no shipping as well as getting the rock bottom price.

Finances - Speaking of cash flow, we are doing ok with an adequate balance to get this season started. This is in spite of a record low budget for the season ending September 30. One reason is that there were no major travel expenses this year. It was an off-year for important conferences, and I was too busy to get to the winter Outdoor Retailer show. But we recently received two gifts which were large by our standards, and this helped tremendously at this time of the year. Our thanks go out to all who contribute, but a special thanks to these two donors.

Banking - The ripples from last falls credit card processing mess continue but are hopefully coming to an end. After changing our Wells Fargo account to prevent processor charges we couldn't stop any other way we lost our nonprofit account, which had been "grandfathered" from when the took over First Security Bank. This has resulted in requirements to avoid fees and then fees being charged anyway. So we have had to change accounts once again, to Citizens Bank. This is the kind of thing which takes up considerable time but which is transparent and unrecognized by most people. On a positive note, another reason we've gotten through the off-season with less financial stress is that we now pay no credit card related fees at all unless we make a sale. PayPal has no monthly minimum fee, whereas iPayment and iTransact each had one. Combined it was probably over $50 a month. For about one third of the year we sell almost nothing, and for another third we probably barely broke even on that. Avalanches are a very seasonal thing.

Programming - Speaking of transparent and unappreciated tasks, the fairly extensive programming of various types falls in this category as well. During recent weeks the forums software was upgraded. Due to previous piece-meal security patches as well as some customization this was not a trivial process, but it should be set up to go smoother in the future now. Programs like the new quiz feature and the links section make managing the site easier and offer better service, but quite a bit of programming is often involved in these things as well. So far I've taught myself Perl, PHP, modRewrite and sometimes bits of other things.

Databases - In the last few years the site has begun to use databases for several features, aside from those used by complicated programs such as the phpBB forum software. Most notably the searchable courses and the incidents. As well as the contributor login system. A lot of this was hacked together from a rushed and functional point of view but has grown over time. The Incidents database has nearly 750 entries now. So I've finally felt compelled to learn something about databases in order to do this right. It turns out that a lot of things have been far from optimal but this has been improved somewhat and the process continues. By the time this season really gets underway these features should be cleaner and faster than in the past.

Final Note

As you can see, there has been a lot going on even though its summer. And there is more improvement planned. Continued database optimization, integration of the quizzes with logins so contributors who sign in can see their past scores, listing of store products on Froogle for broader exposure and hopefully more sales, and a system of matching any published non-sale price on store items. This constant site improvement is what makes the CSAC the most comprehensive and robust avalanche information site on the internet. For a full ten years. Many thanks to those who contribute in one way or another.

Avalanche Center Info


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